from ULTRAZONE: TANGIER TOMBSTONE BLUES
A collaborative work-in-progress
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh part in a weekly series of an excerpt from a new work by Francis Poole & Mark Terrill.
The ghost of Brunhilde Reinhart was still drifting about in the garden of Aicha’s villa on the Old Mountain, stopping from time to time and hovering in place to peer into one of the many windows. Zodelia was still locked in her room in the caretaker’s cottage and refused to come out to prepare dinner. Mohammed, her husband, pleaded with her to come to her senses, but she adamantly and steadfastly refused to come out until the last of the black centipedes had been removed from the premises. She told Mohammed through the locked door that he had to call the exterminator first thing in the morning. Mohammed laughed silently to himself on the other side of the door. The exterminator. Right, of course. Preferably one who also knew how to get rid of curses.
Aicha, still disturbed by the appearance of the djinns or ghosts of William Burroughs, Joseph Dean and Brunhilde Reinhart, as well as the giant black centipedes, and still somewhat shaken by the botched attempt on her life, was now mostly irritated and annoyed with her incompetent servants and very hungry. But there was no way she was going to bed without dinner. She came down from her bedroom and into the kitchen to make herself something to eat. Black magic, extortion, sorcery, blackmail, trickery, seducing rich men and women in order to obtain money or favors were all areas in which Aicha displayed certain talents and natural-born abilities. But cooking and the preparation of food remained incomprehensible mysteries to her.
In the refrigerator Aicha found some boiled potatoes leftover from yesterday’s dinner and some eggs. Figuring that she could manage to fry some potatoes and make some kind of omelet, she put a frying pan on the stove with some olive oil and lit the gas burner. As she was slicing the potatoes she had the feeling that someone was watching her. She glanced up at the kitchen window but saw nothing. She continued with her preparations but the feeling of being watched would not go away and was starting to get on her already frayed nerves.
Aicha put down the knife and walked over to kitchen door and stepped outside onto the small landing at the top of the stairs that led down to the garden. In the bright light of the moon she could see relatively well but there was no one about, just the breeze coming off the strait and rustling in the bamboo grove, although she definitely felt the presence of some djinn or ghost lurking somewhere nearby. Also, from further up on the Old Mountain, came the sound of screeching and chattering animals. It sounded like the macaques at Mr. Garland’s were creating some kind of uproar. Aicha wondered if Mr. Garland knew what he was getting into when he had acquired the macaques for his menagerie, which he bought from a breeder on a farm located in the countryside between Tangier and Asilah. The macaques, actually known as Barbary macaques, all descended from a single family that was bred specifically to replenish the dwindling numbers of so-called “rock apes” who had lived on the Rock of Gibraltar since first being brought over by the Moors, well before 1492. By the time the English captured Gibraltar in 1704 the rock apes were firmly established, and during World War II the British had taken charge of them, seeing to it that they were properly fed and cared for and even given names, usually after some governor, brigadier or high-ranking officer. It was during this time that the additional Barbary macaques were brought over from Tangier.
In the loud screeching and chattering that Aicha now heard, she thought she recognized something both mournful and baleful, laced with a definite tone of longing and yearning, something like the Portuguese notion of saudade, as though the anxious macaques were determined to be reunited with their brethren in Gibraltar. Secretly she wished the macaques would break free and somehow make their way across the strait. Besides the legend that as long as the Barbary macaques remained on the Rock of Gibraltar the territory would remain under British rule, there was another old legend that the macaques had originally arrived in Gibraltar by way of a subterranean tunnel that passed under the strait, from somewhere along the northern coast of Morocco and ending in Lower St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar.
Aicha’s reverie was interrupted by the smell of smoke. She turned around and saw that the frying pan had overheated and the oil had caught fire, the flames now licking upward almost to the ceiling of the kitchen. Aicha ran back inside the kitchen and grabbed an unwashed pot that was in the sink and filled it with water and threw it on the blazing frying pan. There was a loud crackling explosion and the burning oil splashed across the wall behind the stove as well as the ceiling, turning the entire kitchen into a blazing inferno.
Aicha ran out of the kitchen and down the stairs, then around to the front of the house where the caretaker’s cottage was located near the front gate. She banged on the door with her fist shouting “Fire! Fire!” until Mohammed wrenched open the door and the two of them ran toward the kitchen where the flames were already visible in the window and the open door. Mohammed grabbed a garden hose and turned on the water but the pressure was so low that the stream of water wouldn’t even reach the top of the stairs. Mohammed threw down the hose and ran back to the caretaker’s cottage and called the fire department. Then he ran back around the house and continued to spray with the garden hose, in an attempt to at least keep the fire from spreading to the rest of the house.
By the time the first fire truck arrived the flames were leaping out the kitchen window and the door and had spread to the wooden roof. As the fire truck came careening in the driveway through the open gate, the driver miscalculated the turn and tore off one wing of the large iron gate with the bumper of the fire truck. Several fireman jumped down from the truck and began rolling out hoses and making the connection to the fire hydrant in the street outside the gate. There the water pressure was extremely low as well, but with the help of the fire truck pump there was enough pressure to get the flames under control after a brief but intense battle.
Although the kitchen was ruined and unusable, the rest of the house had survived intact. But everything was full of smoke and soot and muddy ashes. The firemen packed up their equipment and loaded up the truck and headed back down the hill. It wouldn’t be possible to spend the night in the house until it had been properly aired and cleaned and the kitchen repaired and refurbished. Mohammed suggested that Aicha stay with them in the caretaker’s cottage in the interim, but Aicha wouldn’t hear of it. She went back into the main house to pack a small bag and to call a taxi. She would take a room in a hotel in town until the house was habitable again. As she swung open the medicine cabinet door above the sink in the bathroom to get her toothbrush and toothpaste, a large clump of shiny black centipedes fell with a thud into the sink, where they began to writhe and squirm and reproduce until they were flopping out of the sink onto the marble floor.
It was nearing dawn when Moustapha finally returned to his sister Laila’s house after several hours of aimlessly wandering around the streets of Tangier, wondering what he was going to do about the missing tombstone and how he would explain to his sister and her husband about getting fired from his job at the cemetery. The lights were all out and he let himself in the house as quietly as possible. Apparently Laila and Ahmed were asleep. Moustapha went into the kitchen and drew a glass of water from the tap and drank it down greedily. He was reaching for the jar of majoun on the shelf when he heard the front door opening and footsteps coming toward the kitchen. Suddenly Ahmed was standing there in the kitchen doorway, looking at Moustapha with an irritated expression. Ahmed was still dressed in his blue fire department uniform and his face and hands were smudged with soot and dirt and his hair was plastered against his head from wearing his fireman’s helmet.
“What are you doing up at this time of night?” Ahmed asked.
“I was going to ask the same of you.” Moustapha replied.
“A busy night,” Ahmed said, opening the refrigerator door and looking inside. “First a burning taxi in the Marshan, then a kitchen fire in a villa up on the Old Mountain. Now I’m just tired and hungry and want to go to bed.”
Moustapha watched as Ahmed rummaged in the refrigerator and finally took out a dish with some of the leftover chicken tagine. He then stood there at the kitchen counter and gnawed on a chicken leg while looking absently yet disparagingly at Moustapha.
“Which villa on the Old Mountain?” asked Moustapha out of curiosity and as a way of bridging the icy atmosphere with a bit of small talk.
“The one inherited by that old witch or whore, or whatever she is, Aicha, the sister of Cherifa, a witch who used to work in the grain market before she put a spell on that crazy Nazrani, Jane Bowles.”
Moustapha raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Was it a big fire? Was there much damage?”
“The kitchen mostly, the rest of the house we were able to save. But no one can live there in that mess now.”
“So she’s not there now?”
“No, she said something about taking a room in a hotel. Why, what’s it to you?”
“Just curious,” Moustapha said, looking down at the floor.
After Ahmed had finally gone to bed, Moustapha sat alone at the kitchen table and dipped a spoon into the jar of majoun, which he washed down with a cup of strong black tea that he had made. Before he even felt the first effects of the majoun, he had a very strong vision, and knew exactly what he had to do next. He finished the tea, put away the jar of majoun, and from the trunk in the spare room where he sometimes slept, he took out a flashlight and a pair of gloves, which he placed in his shoulder bag. He quietly turned off the lights and left the house, locking the door behind him.
Moustapha walked through the quiet dark streets and into the medina. Arriving at the Café Triangle, which was still open at that late hour, he went inside and straight through the large blue front room to the door in back and into the back room, where Ravi Khan and Tony Mahoney and the Gnawa ensemble were whipping up wild Gnawa versions of various Captain Beefheart songs from Trout Mask Replica to an enthralled audience.
Looking around the room as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, Moustapha saw Kazim at the bar at the back of the room, seated next to the two Mugwumps. Moustapha made his way through the crowd to the bar and approached Kazim.
“Peace be upon you,” said Kazim.
“And you also,” Moustapha replied.
Moustapha sat down on a stool next to Kazim and explained to him what had transpired during the last 24 hours. He then told Kazim what he had in mind. Kazim listened intently, one eye on the musicians on stage, the other roving the audience in the smoke-filled room. Then Kazim turned toward the two Mugwumps and briefly spoke with them, the words of which Moustapha could not hear over the music. Kazim tuned back toward Moustapha. “Yes, they’d be willing to help you, as they anyway owe me a favor, and a favor for you is a favor for me. They have a car, which is parked just down the street. They’ll be ready to go as soon as they’ve finished their drinks and this song is over, which is anyway the last of this evening’s performance. I wish you luck, my friend.”
“Thank you. I’m sure I’ll need it.”
“What will you have to drink?” Kazim asked.
“Just a tea.”
Kazim ordered a glass of tea from the bartender and when it arrived Moustapha sipped at it gingerly while he looked around the room. He didn’t see Everly Tweed, or anyone else that he knew, other than the musicians. In fact, he wondered just who all these people were and where they came from and why he hadn’t seen them before in the streets or the markets of Tangier. Meanwhile the majoun was taking effect and Moustapha’s perception was beginning to warp accordingly. Despite his less-than-thorough understanding of the English language, he found himself listening intently to the strange lyrics of the song being played and was surprised at just how fitting and appropriate they seemed in accordance with his present situation:
“When I get lonesome the wind begin t’ moan
When I trip fallin’ ditch
Somebody wanna’ throw the dirt right down
When I feel like dyin’ the sun come out
‘n stole m’ fear ‘n gone
Who’s afraid of the spirit with the bluesferbones
Who’s afraid of the fallin’ ditch
Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones
How’s that for the spirit
How’s that for the things
Ain’t my fault the thing’s gone wrong
‘n when I’m smilin’ my face wrinkles up real warm
‘n when um frownin’ things just turn t’ stone
Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones
‘n when I get lonesome the wind begin t’ moan
Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones”
When the song was over there was an uproarious round of applause and Ravi Khan, Tony Mahoney and the entire Gnawa ensemble stood up and took several bows. Then the house lights came on and the crowd began to disperse, while the musicians began packing up their gear. The combination of the strong black tea, the majoun, and the bizarre Captain Beefheart lyrics had given Moustapha a sense of empowerment. The two Mugwumps got to their feet and motioned to Moustapha that they were ready to leave. Moustapha was surprised to see how tall they actually were, well over two meters if not more. With their reptilian heads and tails, human bodies, and strange translucent skin they were formidable creatures indeed. Certainly his mission could not fail in the presence of such beings. They introduced themselves as Marvin and Lee, although Moustapha had trouble telling them apart.
They bid Kazim farewell and left the Café Triangle and started walking down the street.
“Our car’s just around the corner here,” said Marvin.
“It’s a super-bad ride. You’ll dig it.” said Lee.
Moustapha had wondered what language the Mugwumps might speak, but he hadn’t been expecting the sort of hipster-English that they seemed to favor.
When they came around the corner Moustapha immediately recognized the 1966 metallic-bronze colored Ford Mustang parked at the curb. It had belonged to Paul Bowles and was passed on to his driver and assistant Abdelouahaid Boulaich, who had eventually sold it. Marvin went around and unlocked the driver’s door and got in behind the wheel. Lee opened the passenger door and Moustapha climbed into the back seat.
Marvin started the engine and Moustapha marveled at the throaty roar of the big V-8 engine. With a screech of burning rubber they started down the street, making their way through the small narrow streets until they turned onto the Boulevard Pasteur and headed toward the Old Mountain. The Mustang’s interior was upholstered in a fake white leather, and despite being only a two-door coupe, was large and roomy. Marvin shifted through the gears with the four-on-the-floor transmission with obvious relish and enjoyment. As they roared by the Place de Koweit Moustapha was humming along with the lyrics that were going through his head; “Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones, ‘n when I get lonesome the wind begin t’ moan, Fallin’ ditch ain’t gonna get my bones.”
As they neared Aicha’s villa on the Old Mountain, Moustapha told Marvin to slow down as they passed by. Moustapha saw that gate was broken and flung wide open and that there were no lights on, either in the main house or the caretaker’s cottage. He told Marvin to park in a dark side street just up around the corner. From there the three of them walked back down the road to the gate and slipped inside. They walked around to the back and quietly ascended the stairs and entered the smoky remains of the kitchen. Moustapha didn’t know where to look for the tombstone, but considering its weight and bulk, he thought it wise to look first in the garage on the ground floor. He found the stairs with the beam of his flashlight and the three of them descended to the garage.
“Wow!” said Marvin as they entered the garage and saw the vintage pistachio-green Mercedes 200SL coupe covered with a film of dust. “Check this fucker out!”
“Super-bad!” exclaimed Lee.
While Marvin and Lee were admiring the old Mercedes, Moustapha searched the rest of the garage and finally found the two pieces of Joseph Dean’s tombstone lying on the floor in the back. “Here it is!” he whispered loudly.
Moustapha was pulling on his gloves as Marvin and Lee approached.
“What’s with the gloves?” Lee asked.
“Just a safety precaution. Sometimes people have strange evil curses on their tombstones to prevent or hinder their theft. The curse can be activated as soon as someone touches it.”
“Fuck that shit,” Lee said, bending over and picking up one half of the marble tombstone as though it was made of Styrofoam. “The curse has not yet been conjured that can fuck with us.”
Marvin picked up the other half of the tombstone and the three of them started toward the stairs, with Moustapha leading the way with the flashlight.
“We gotta see how we can get our hands on this 200SL, man,” Marvin said as they passed the Mercedes on the way to the stairs. “Make this Aicha bitch some kind of offer she can’t refuse.”
They ascended the stairs to the kitchen and went out the backdoor and down into the garden. Moustapha switched off the flashlight and they made their way toward the front gate through the patches of moonlight shining down through the big eucalyptus trees.
Zodelia was still too nervous and agitated to sleep. She was alone in their bedroom while Mohammed slept on the banquette in the living room. Thinking that she heard what sounded like footsteps in the gravel of the driveway, she went over to the window and pushed aside the curtain. Her jaw dropped in sheer disbelief and awe at what she saw there in the bright light of the full moon. There, walking out of the garden and toward the front gate, were two extremely tall figures, looking like a cross between a man and a lizard, a fan-like crest of cartilage running down their spines and stopping just short of a long tail, each carrying a piece of the tombstone that she’d seen in the garage. Leading the way was a shorter man in a light-colored djellaba and a straw hat. Zodelia fainted and fell back on the bed.
Marvin and Lee loaded the two halves of the tombstone into the trunk of the Mustang and the three of them got in and Marvin started the engine. Moustapha loved that sound. From the glove compartment Lee took out an old-fashioned 8-track tape cartridge and slipped it into the vintage player mounted under the dashboard. As they headed back down the Old Mountain toward the Anglican Church of St. Andrew, the Mustang was filled with the sound of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” the three of them enthusiastically nodding their heads in time with music and the two Mugwumps singing along with the lyrics, “Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway, lookin for adventure, and whatever comes our way…”
Burroughs, Dean, and Bowles were still lost in their reverie on the terrace of the Hotel Continental. It was now a few hours before the Fajr, the early morning call to prayer, which would echo through the Medina shortly before sunrise. In the east, the first few blushes of pink were glowing along the horizon. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by the sound of squealing tires, the roar of an engine, and the thumping bass notes of a car stereo.
“What in the world is that awful racket?” Bowles asked.
The noise came closer and the three of them turned around and saw the metallic-bronze ’66 Ford Mustang careening around a corner and turning into the Rue d’Angleterre.
“Say, Paul,” Burroughs said, “Didn’t you used to have a car like that?”
“That is my car, or rather, was.”
“Did you see who was in the front seat?” Dean asked. “Looked like a couple of Mugwumps.”
“So that’s where my Mustang ended up,” said Bowles. “Abdelouahaid must have sold it. But to those creatures? Very interesting.”
“Mugwumps?” Burroughs repeated, somewhat puzzled.
“If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I’ll have a closer look.”
While Burroughs and Dean remained there on the terrace, seemingly entranced by the moonlit bay and the pre-dawn calm, Bowles rose up and followed the Mustang as it zoomed up the Rue d’Angleterre.
As Moustapha and the two Mugwumps, Marvin and Lee, approached the cemetery, Marvin switched off the headlights and the engine and they coasted silently down the street and parked alongside the St. Andrew’s Cemetery wall. All three exited the Mustang and Marvin and Lee lifted the two tombstone slabs out of the trunk.
“Venir por aqui,” said Moustapha. “I no longer have a key to the locked gate but I know a way to get inside without being seen.” Marvin and Lee followed Moustapha along the wall until they reached a thick growth of cane. In the moonlight the Mugwumps’ skin glittered green and magenta and seemed to glow from within. Moustapha pushed the cane aside to reveal an opening in the wall which was filled in with stones and pieces of broken pottery and sticks. He cleared the debris out of the way and Marvin and Lee made their way into the grounds.
“Where do we drop this load?” asked Lee. Moustapha raised his index finger to his lips and silently motioned toward Dean’s gravesite. Bowles, who was hovering nearby behind a cracked marble obelisk, watched as the two Mugwumps lowered the tombstone halves carefully into place, on the exact spot where they had lain since 1963. Marvin looked at Lee and said, “This is kinda like a reburial, so before we leave we ought to say a few words for old Dean, don’t you think?”
“Absolutamente,” said Lee. “And I know a song by Blind Lemon Jefferson that might be perfect for the occasion. I’ll just change the lyrics a little if you’ll allow me.”
“Be my ghost, er, guest,” said Marvin.
“Let me get my gear, I’ll be right back.”
Lee went back out through the wall to the Mustang and then returned carrying a guitar case and a small battery-operated Pignose amplifier, which he set on the ground next to Dean’s grave. From the guitar case he produced a 1960 Supro Val Trol electric guitar and plugged it into the amplifier and checked the tuning of the strings.
Bowles floated a little closer for a better view. Being a great fan of the blues and love interest of the late torch and blues singer Libby Holman, he didn’t want to miss this. There was still an hour or so until dawn and time enough to get to get back to the Hotel Continental to inform Dean and Burroughs of what he’d witnessed in the cemetery.
Moustapha, being pleased and excited by the return of Dean’s tombstone, climbed atop the tomb of Major Harry Twentyman and looked on wide-eyed as Lee began to quietly sing;
“Well, there’s one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
Well, there’s one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one kind of favor I’ll ask of you
You can see that my grave is kept clean
And there’s two green Mugwumps following me
And there’s two green Mugwumps following me
I got two green Mugwumps following me
Waiting on my burying ground
Did you ever hear that coffin’ sound
Have you ever heard that coffin’ sound
Did you ever hear that coffin’ sound
Means poor old Dean is underground
Did you ever hear them church bells tone
Have you ever hear’d them church bells tone
Did you ever hear them church bells tone
Means poor old Dean is dead and gone
Well, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
And, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Well, my heart stopped beating and my hands turned cold
Now I believe what the bible told
There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
And there’s one last favor I’ll ask of you
There’s just one last favor I’ll ask of you
See that my grave is kept clean”
As soon as Lee had finished Marvin said, “Right on Daddy. Let’s blow this creamery.” The two Mugwumps simultaneously said “Pasta Lumbago” to Moustapha, grabbed up the guitar and the amplifier, flicked their tails and hopped back through the opening in the wall and jumped in the Mustang. There was a deep throaty roar of the Mustang’s four-barrelled, 302 cubic inch V-8 and then the screech of spinning tires as Marvin gave the gas pedal the heavy-metal treatment. Moustapha ran over to the opening, pushed aside the cane and saw a ghostly cloud of white smoke lingering in the street which smelled of burning rubber. The taillights glowed red like the eyes of a devil as they disappeared into the distance.
“Allah protect me,” said Moustapha. He then climbed through the hole, filled up the crack in the wall and walked swiftly toward Rue de Hollande.
Bowles hovered there in the in the darkness for a few moments, bemused by what he had witnessed. Then he produced his cigarette holder out of thin air and took a few puffs of a nicely packed kif cigarette. There was a faint fluttering sound in the air and almost instantaneously he was back at the Hotel Continental seated next to Dean and Burroughs.
Burroughs turned towards Bowles and said, “What’s with the rather self-satisfied look? And what did you find out? What kind of otherworldly mischief are those Mugwumps up to now?”
Bowles took another long drag, exhaled slowly and said, “I’ve got some news to die again for. Dean, it seems as though your tombstone has been recovered and replaced, though for how long is anyone’s guess.”
Dean rose from his chair and hovered about three feet above his two compadres. “Well I’ll be damned–not literally of course–but I won’t believe it, even from a ghost, until my spirit actually feels those cold broken slabs of granite.”
Burroughs and Bowles looked at each other. “Well,” said Bowles, “Follow me.”
A shower of sparks flashed on the terrace and the three of them were back in St. Andrew’s Churchyard standing above the grave of Joseph Dean. Dean looked dumbstruck as he stared down on the stones which read:
MISSED BY ALL
“It’s really back! And not in three or four pieces but the same two halves in which it was originally laid back in 1963. I remember it was transported here in a harness of woven hemp slung between two donkeys. Somehow the donkeys got spooked and the harness broke just inside the gates. The tombstone fell and split almost dead center. I suspected some of the more privileged persons interred here weren’t too thrilled to have me join them and were making a clumsy attempt to try and keep me out. The dead can be so snobbish. But now it’s back and I’m feeling like I could celebrate. Hey Bill, any chance we can score some special ‘spirits’ for the occasion?”
“If you mean coke, you’re crazy,” said Burroughs. “That’s what put you here in the first place. Remember I was resting comfortably with my cats and the rest of the Burroughs clan in St. Louis until I got word of some stupid shenanigans involving a bogus fedora, a witch, and your desaparecido tombstone. And the plot just keeps getting thicker. I used to say, If cats don’t need no junk, Bill don’t need no junk. But as the popular adage goes, ‘Never say never again.’” The tone of Burroughs’ voice was becoming more and more vehement as he continued his rant.
“As pleased as I am for you Dean, I still have to find and corner that goddamn Ugly Spirit and go all ‘Wild Boys’ on his or her ass. To do that I need to locate the lost Ultrazone manuscript. And if I ever see another alleged ‘Burroughs’ fedora I’m tempted to persuade Aicha to take a shit in it. Too bad I can’t use a good old Colt Peacemaker in my present incarnation. If I could I’d settle a lot of scores in the Nagual realm. As I’ve said before, nonviolence is not exactly my program.”
“Why don’t we all just calm down,” said Bowles soothingly. “Who knows, one success may lead to another and another, then we can all celebrate. I might even be able to find some satisfying ‘spirits’ to partake of. Meanwhile, as long as we’re here, I’d like to have another look into those subterranean realms we discovered earlier. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that.”
“OK, Mage, lead on,” said Burroughs.
“This way,” Bowles called to the other two.
Bowles looked around for the mausoleum but it wasn’t where it had been. They drifted up and down between the rows of tombs until they reached the back of the cemetery where they spotted a strange looking turtle. As they made eye contact the turtle was transformed into the very mausoleum they had entered before. “Speaking of the Nagual, I haven’t seen a shape-shifter like that since I was in Guatemala years ago,” Bowles said.
They passed through the thick door of the mausoleum and down through the stone floor like flour passing through a sieve, and continued on into the grotto from where the stairs descended into the void. They followed the narrow twisting stairs down at a steep angle and found themselves in a large echoing chamber with a high curved ceiling made of bricks. It could have been Roman or Phoenician. Leading off from the chamber were five hall-like passageways. Bowles suggested they take the one on the far left and they quickly proceeded down it. The passageway went on for some distance, made several turns, slanting lower then climbing abruptly upward where it stopped at a high stone wall. Bowles reckoned that they were passing somewhere beneath the medina. At one point he sensed that they were not too far away from the ruins of one of the old fortifications left after the British had bombarded the city in 1684 under Samuel Pepys. Bowles was curious as to what lay on the other side of the wall. The wall was massive and very thick and as the three of them passed slowly through it they could see the layers of stone, brick, and mortar that suggested an aged edifice which had undergone various phases of reconstruction. Suddenly they found themselves in a small room, which was in the back of a large abandoned building. There was an old mattress, a couple of backless wooden chairs, and a crude wooden table made of boards and wooden packing crates. They also saw several empty Coca Cola bottles, cigarette butts, a charcoal mishma for cooking and a small aluminum pot for making tea. On the wall hung a tattered poster of Pamela Anderson.
“Either someone lives here or it’s a hide-out for contrabandistas.” Bowles said.
“A veritable thieves’ den,” said Burroughs.
Unknown to the three of them they had passed through the back wall of the old abandoned warehouse butted up against the hillside and into Sayyad and Steetoo’s secret hideout.
After floating around the space to examine it more carefully, they made their way back to the main chamber. “That was a bit of a disappointment,” Bowles said. “Perhaps the other passages lead to more rewarding destinations. At least I’ve confirmed my belief that there are tunnels burrowing their way beneath the city. Perhaps this is a network of passages where magic spells travel back and forth from sender to victim. Or perhaps a subterranean network for some other purpose.”
“Or maybe an underground railroad to the Western Lands,” said Burroughs.
Dean took the opportunity to retell the story about Dean’s Bar where workman doing some plumbing repairs in the dining salon accidentally broke through the floor and discovered a room, perhaps part of a Roman house, which held the skeleton of a camel. Dean said the workmen were so terrified that they immediately sealed up the floor and left without even collecting the money they were owed. Dean had to hire some Spanish plumbers from Algeciras who were able to do the job without further excavation or problems. Tales of a haunted ancient Roman brothel or torture-chamber beneath Dean’s Bar began circulating around Tangier. For months the overly cautious would only walk past Dean’s Bar by crossing to the other side of the street. Perhaps one of the passages they had had found led to the mysterious room beneath Dean’s.
“So which passageway shall we try now?” Bowles said.
“How about taking the one on the far right,” said Burroughs. “There’s an ominous odor of decay coming from the entrance that I find appealing.”
Bowles led the way and the three ghosts slowly moved down the dark tunnel. They had gone quite a distance in a more or less straight line when the tunnel curved to the right and ascended abruptly. Soon they felt and heard the sounds of percussion instruments being played in a strangely syncopated, haphazard rhythm. The tunnel stopped at what seemed to be a large slanted door in the ceiling. Moving carefully through it, they found themselves in a large, cavernous, elaborately decorated theatre. The place was in an advanced state of disrepair and decay, covered in a thick layer of dust, with broken rows of seats tipped over on the floor and smashed light fixtures protruding from the walls. It had a high domed ceiling covered with faded and peeling images of painted angels and swirling clouds. On both sides there were balconies with ornately carved railings. Below there were rows of seats extending back towards the entrance and separated by a wide aisle. Private theatre boxes sat below the balconies. Dean looked up and saw that they were standing against a wall behind the proscenium arch above the stage, on which was piled the rubble of old stage sets and more broken chairs and seats.
“Esto es increíble!” said Dean. “I know this place; it’s the Gran Teatro Cervantes, originally built in 1913. It was the greatest theatre in all of North Africa in its time. Operas, plays, dancers, Andalusian orchestras, Flamenco; you name it, it all happened here. Muy fabuloso. It’s been closed for decades.”
The fumbling rhythmic sounds they had heard ceased for a moment and then began again. “Wait,” said Bowles, squinting his eyes and cocking his head slightly. “I think I recognize that beat. It’s Moroccan. Either Gnawa or a poor attempt at a Jilala rhythm.” Bowles moved forward until he was downstage and close enough to peer over the edge. There on the dusty floor strewn with broken pieces of plaster and trash were the ghosts of Brian Jones and Brion Gysin, struggling to play a native djembe drum and a pair of krakebs (a type of metal castanets.) The ghosts were not having much success in handling the instruments and Bowles could sense their frustration.
“Trying to play a musical instrument when you’re dead isn’t easy,” said Jones while continuing a ghostly rapping on the djembe.
“Unless you’re the Grateful Dead of course,” quipped Gysin. “’Exterminate all rational thought’ was a concept best applied to music,” he continued. “But that only works if you can manipulate the fucking instruments. Give me a minute to see if I can get a better hold on these krakebs and then let’s begin again.”
“I wish I still had my Vox Teardrop Mk. III,” Jones said “That guitar wrote most of the early and greatest Stones songs.”
Burroughs and Dean glided toward the edge of the stage so they were just behind Bowles, looking down over his shoulders. “Well I’ll kiss a mandrill’s ass,” whispered Burroughs. “Never expected to see Brion again, and especially not in Tangier. And with the original Stone-Meister himself. This is a helluva reunion.”
For the next few minutes the three remained silent and just listened. Gysin and Jones were so intent on getting a decent percussive groove going that they were totally unaware of the audience above and behind them.
“Look, Brion,” said Jones. “The reason I asked you to join me in this session was because I finally heard another group with a soulful power strong enough to make me want to try a comeback, or in my case, a resurrection, and you were the one who originally introduced me to the thousand-year-old Rock n’ Roll music of Jajouka. And when I felt the vibes from Ravi Khan and Toney Mahoney’s free jams with the Gnawa orchestra, I had the same feeling I got when I first heard Elmore James. They just need some more of that old mystical Gnawa juice, you know, trance music that will connect with the hidden spirit world. Maybe I was always the laziest member of my band, the Stones, but not anymore. The dead don’t need a break from touring.”
“I understand completely, Brian. I’ll keep working at it until we’re able to slip in and join Khan and Mahoney. Fuck, they won’t even know we’re in the group. We’ll be like the invisible back-up band. And wouldn’t this be a fucking great place to have a concert? We might even have some special guests show up. We’ll show them what “Stairwell to Hell” is really all about!”
They resumed their practicing and finally managed to get together a few grooves that hinted toward the sort of magically hypnotic qualities to which Brian Jones had been referring, with a nod to “Sympathy for the Devil.” When they stopped, they were surprised by the sound of applause from the stage above them. They looked up and saw the ghosts of Burroughs, Dean and Bowles, clapping and smiling.
“Bill! Paul! Dean!” Gysin exclaimed. “What a wonderful unexpected surprise! What on earth, or off, are you doing here?”
“Well, Brion,” Burroughs drawled emphatically, glancing over at Dean and Bowles with a knowing look. “It’s getting to be a long story.”
“We having nothing but time, Bill,” Brion answered. “All the time in eternity.”
Through the boarded-up windows and old crumbling walls of the Gran Teatro Cervantes came the wavering scratchy sound of the pre-recorded call of the muezzin for the Fajr, the day’s first call to prayer, echoing through the medina from the speakers mounted on the many minarets of the Port of Saints, now glowing golden-pink in the first light of the day. In the many palm trees throughout the city, the starlings were beginning their insistent nervous rustling in the fronds.
Mr. Garland was an early-riser, usually up at dawn to oversee the feeding of his vast menagerie, which were already clamoring for their first meal of the day. But even as he was still in his bedroom getting dressed, he was aware of something unusual, something absent in the typical early-morning acoustic background. It was the sound of the macaques. Mr. Garland stepped out onto the balcony and looked over toward the macaques’ large enclosure and saw that it was empty.
He finished dressing and went down and found Ali, the watchman and groundskeeper. Ali had no explanation for the missing macaques. He too had heard them during the night, and that they had sounded particularly restless and agitated. Ali started offering various theories and possibilities, putting the blame on the full moon or evil spirits or even ghosts, but Mr. Garland was not in the mood for any of that Moroccan hoodoo-voodoo-superstition-bullshit and quickly cut him off, telling Ali to check with all the neighbors to see if anyone had heard or seen anything and to find out what he could. Of all the animals in Mr. Garland’s possession, the macaques were dearest to him. He had given them all names knew each one of them well, by way of their own individual personalities and traits.
After having a closer look at the macaques’ enclosure and confirming that the macaques had broken out entirely on their own, apparently without any kind of human assistance or tampering, Mr. Garland went back inside and called the police, albeit not without a certain reluctance. Mr. Garland was no fan of the authorities, and hated dealing with them, especially the Moroccans. But in this case it seemed necessary, as the return of the macaques was absolutely necessary and any help he could get would be welcome. If the macaques were sighted somewhere else and someone else notified the police, then they could inform Mr. Garland. It wasn’t just the material value of the macaques that was at stake, but also Mr. Garland’s close emotional bond with the macaques, in particular with Bruno, the large shaggy male and self-appointed leader of the entire group.
After telephoning the police and explaining what happened, Mr. Garland put on Luxury Liner by Emmylou Harris and turned it up and went back out on his balcony with his morning cup of tea to wait for the police to arrive. The detective he’d talked to on the phone said they wanted to inspect the “scene of the crime,” although as far as Mr. Garland could tell, no crime had been committed; the macaques had merely broken out of their enclosure and escaped. He couldn’t understand why, as he did his best to look after them and treated them well. But if the Moroccan police preferred to see it as a criminal act, maybe it would provide them with the necessary motivation to actually get involved and help find and return the macaques.
When Mina, Sayyad’s older sister, arrived at her job that morning in the offices of Maghreb Marine in the Avenue Mohammed V, she was a bit nervous. In her purse was the key to the safety deposit box and the slip of paper with the information about the bank. The anticipation of what might be waiting in the safety deposit box kept her from concentrating on her job, and had cost her some sleep during the night as well. With her mind’s eye she saw the safety deposit box overflowing with money, gold, jewels and other riches; then she saw herself on a shopping spree in Paris; then sunning herself on the deck of her yacht in Monaco, prior to an evening of carousing the casinos…
It was standard practice for Mina to go by foot to the bank and the post office at around ten each morning, to pick up and deliver registered mail and deposit checks and to run other bureaucratic errands. Mina planned on using that opportunity to locate the bank and see if she could get access to the safety deposit box. According to the information written on the tiny piece of paper, the bank was called Interbank, located at the Place Brahim Aroudani. She looked in the telephone book but saw no listing for the Interbank, although she did find that there was a branch of the Bank of Gibraltar located at the Place Brahim Aroudani.
Promptly at ten, Mina gathered up the outgoing mail and checks that needed to be deposited and slipped them into the brown leather attaché case that she always took with her when doing business for the company. She first walked up to the Boulevard Pasteur and went into the Banque Populaire du Maroc to deposit the checks. Mina was befriended with one of the tellers there, an older lady named Fatima. Mina asked Fatima about the Interbank, if she knew what it was or where it was. Fatima told her that the Interbank was originally the Bank of Gibraltar, but had been renamed during the period of the International Zone. When Tangier joined the rest of Morocco following the restoration of full sovereignty in 1956, bringing an end to the International Zone, the Interbank resumed its original name of the Bank of Gibraltar.
Mina left the Banque Populaire du Maroc and walked back down the Boulevard Pasteur, past the Place de France, passing the Café de Paris and the other cafés, which were all crowded with the usual morning contingent of locals, tourists, faux-bohemians, shoeshine boys, beggars and various hustlers. Mina continued down the Avenue Mohammed V, past the Place Oumame, toward the Place Brahim Aroudani, thinking as she walked along. So whatever it was that was in the safety deposit box, it had been languishing there since at least 1956. Considering the amount of smuggling and illicit business transactions that went on during the International Zone, Mina speculated that the chances were quite good that the safety deposit box booty would prove to be a bountiful one.
After reaching the Place Brahim Aroudani and locating the Bank of Gibraltar, Mina stood outside on the sidewalk for a moment in order to compose herself and relax a little before going inside. Her appearance should in no way raise any suspicions or doubts. She pushed open the door and stepped into the air-conditioned vestibule of the bank with an air of confidence. She quickly scanned the counter and saw one woman teller who had a somewhat sympathetic appearance. Mina stepped over to the counter and explained to the teller the purpose of her visit. She had decided not to offer any explanation whatsoever for her wanting to open the safety-deposit box for the first time in almost fifty years. She was relying on the code of discretion that was honored among banks which would hopefully respect her privacy.
The teller looked at the safety deposit box key and then excused herself, saying she would be right back. Mina watched her walk toward the rear of the bank, where several bank employees were seated at various large desks. The teller spoke briefly with a man with a balding head and a thick black moustache. The man looked over at Mina and then at the key and then spoke with the teller again. He then got up, and with the key, walked back further into the interior of the bank and spoke with a large corpulent man with white hair who was sitting at an even larger desk. Mina felt her nervousness increasing but tried to keep it under control.
After conferring for what seemed ages, the man with the moustache left the desk of the white-haired man and went into an office at the back, disappearing from her view. Mina looked down at her fingernails, then at the grain of the marble of the counter top, then at the pen in its holder on the end of a small metal chain. Although nothing was happening, it seemed as though a few eternities had already slipped by. Mina had just reached the point where she was considering turning and leaving and abandoning the entire venture when the man with the moustache came out of the office and approached the counter, gesturing for Mina to step around it and follow him.
“This way, please, Madame.”
Mina hesitated for moment, but then decided to go with him. The two of them walked to the rear of the bank and descended a spiral staircase into the basement. The man opened the huge steel door of the vault and they stepped inside. He handed the key to Mina, and from his vest pocket, produced a similar key, which he slipped into one of the two locks of the safety-deposit box #023. Mina noticed that it was one of the medium-sized boxes, and not just the smallest, which raised her hopes even more. He gestured for her to slip her key into the other lock and they both turned the keys and he pulled out the box. “Follow me, please,” he said, and they walked out of the vault and around a corner into a small room with a desk and two chairs.
“I’ll be waiting outside when you are finished,” he said. He set the box on the desk and left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Mina sat down and looked at the safety-deposit box lying on the desk. She took a deep breath and slowly lifted the lid. After a brief moment of pure bewilderment, she felt her heart dropping, as the images of wealth and prosperity that she’d been entertaining all morning long fell with an inaudible crash to the floor, like the shards of a broken mirror.
Inside the box was a pistol, a box of bullets, a large folding knife, several glass syringes with needles, a kif pipe, a mildewed leather pouch of kif which was dried to almost dust, several glass ampoules of something called Eukodol, and a huge pile of papers, thicker than several telephone books. The typewritten pages were dog-eared and dirty, some with ugly stains and even small charred holes, as though they had been lying around somewhere exposed to all sorts of wear and abuse before finally being gathered up and collected. Mina cautiously lifted up the first page with the tips of her fingers and read the word ULTRAZONE typed in capital letters in red ink and underlined. Below that, typed in black ink, was a name: William S. Burroughs, a name which meant nothing to her. She then dropped the page back onto the pile and sat back in the chair and sighed deeply. So much for shopping in Paris and lying on the deck of her yacht in Monaco and carousing the casinos by night. “Merde!” she said out loud.
“Madame?” said the man through the door inquisitively. “Everything alright?”
“Yes of course, I’ll be through in just a moment.”
Mina transferred the contents into the attaché case and shut the lid of the safety-deposit box. She got to her feet and opened the door, thanking the man with the moustache and wishing him a good day. She climbed the stairs, crossed the vestibule, and stepped outside into the warm Tangier morning, which now seemed even warmer after the cool interior of the air conditioned bank.
So deep was her disappointment and so engrossed was Mina in her thoughts that she completely failed to see an old blind beggar in a black burnoose shuffling along the sidewalk from the opposite direction and ran right into him. The old beggar staggered backward, the burnoose that had been covering his head flipping back, and Mina saw the brown leathery wrinkled skin and white stubble of a beard and closely shorn white hair. The beggar’s eyes were two colorless orbs rotating in the sockets of his skull. She had inadvertently dropped the attaché case, which had landed on the ground with a loud thump and burst open, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk. She quickly kneeled down to gather everything up. A sudden gust of wind came blowing down the street and picked up several pages of the Ultrazone manuscript and swept them further down the street. Some young street-urchin kids who had been standing in a nearby doorway came running out and went chasing after the windblown pages that were cartwheeling down the Avenue Mohammed V like a flock of crazed white gulls.
Everly Tweed was unable to sleep. He couldn’t even lie in bed anymore. The junk sickness, recently brought back to life after his taste of the Blue Messiah’s fine product, was now a writhing, crawling, twisting, scratching being trying to take over Tweed’s consciousness from the inside out. Tweed sat up and wiped the cold sweat off of his brow and coughed and wretched. He needed another fix, and not just a few drops of that Oil of the Djinn kid’s-stuff. It was time for the real thing. But where could he score? He’d spent his last dirhams on those absinthes in the Café de Nuit. He started piecing together some of the blurry incidents of the recent past and focused in on the small vial of heroin that the monkey had snatched up along with the fedora. Where was that vial now?
Tweed glanced up at the multi-colored skylight and the wheels of his junk-sick mind began to whirl like a wound-up child’s toy. He got up and cleared the floor of books and clothes directly under the skylight. He then slid the table over so that it was positioned under the skylight, and then placed a chair on top of the table. He carefully climbed up onto the table and then onto the chair and eased open the skylight. He poked his head through and looked around the bright sunny rooftop but there was no one to be seen. He lifted himself up through the skylight and stood there blinking in the bright Tangier sun, which immediately made him feel dizzy and weak. He stood there for a few minutes until the wave of dizziness and nausea had passed and his eyes had adjusted to the glaring light. The one wall of the building next door was a windowless firewall that extended a few stories higher than his own building. The wall on the opposite side was also a few stories higher, and also without windows. So just where was it that the kid and his monkey came from, wondered Tweed.
He walked to the rear of the roof and looked down into a narrow courtyard which was hung with washing. To the right, at the rear of the building next door, he could look down onto the rear balcony of the apartment that must have been directly next to his. There was a table and some chairs, some gas bottles, some potted plants and herbs, some parakeets in cages suspended from a makeshift tin roof, and various wooden crates stacked against the wall. Tweed saw that by climbing up onto the crates, it would be possible for someone to get onto the roof from the balcony. So that must be where the kid and the monkey live, thought Tweed. He saw that the door was open from the balcony into the apartment and stood there and listened but heard nothing except the usual chatter of voices and TV and radio echoing up from the courtyard. He realized that it would be possible for him to climb down onto the balcony and thus enter the apartment next door. He could feel the turmoil created by the battling factions within him, the junk sickness and its inherent exigency and what one might call common sense.
(c) 2014 By The Authors
FRANCIS POOLE first visited Morocco in 1973 and 1975 and was eventually hired to teach English at the American School of Tangier in 1979. During this time he met and befriended Paul Bowles, in whose apartment he also met Mohamed Mrabet, Mohamed Temsamani, Mohamed Choukri, Gavin Lambert, Claude Thomas, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and others. During Poole’s three-year stay in Tangier he wrote poetry and edited BLADES, a small magazine of experimental writing to which Paul Bowles contributed several items, including the first poem he ever wrote as a young child. After other teaching stints in Evora and Lisbon, Portugal, Poole eventually returned to the USA, where he became a film archivist at the University of Delaware, which had a substantial Paul Bowles collection. Poole was then able to negotiate the acquisition of a substantial amount of Bowles’s papers, notebooks, letters, and books, which greatly expanded the University of Delaware’s collection. Poole last spoke with Bowles in September, 1999, two months before his death. The outcome of that conversation was the last interview with Paul Bowles, which appeared in Five Points. Poole has published several collections of prose and poetry, including Everybody Comes to Dean’s; Dean’s Bar, Tangier, (Poporo Press, 2012), Snakeskin Raincoat (Poporo Press, 2013), and with Kevin Lacey he co-edited Mirrors on the Maghrib: Critical Reflections on Paul and Jane Bowles and Other American Writers in Morocco (Caravan Books, 1996.) His essay on Hollywood’s depiction of the Moroccan bandit, Moulay Ahmed al-Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion, was published in The Arab-African and Islamic Worlds: Interdisciplinary Studies, and an essay on William Burroughs and the Beats was published in International Quarterly. Other writings have appeared in the Village Voice, Exquisite Corpse, Black Moon, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Bukowski Review, Chiron Review, Lost and Found Times, New York Quarterly, Pearl, Poema Convidado, Poetry East, Rolling Stone, Shattered Wig Review and elsewhere. Recently he collaborated with Mark Terrill on two limited edition chapbooks of poetry illustrated with collages by John Digby, The Spleen of Madrid and A Pair of Darts (both Feral Press, 2012). Poole lives with his wife in Newark, Delaware.
MARK TERRILL shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, and was a participant in a writing workshop with Paul Bowles at the American School of Tangier, Morocco, in 1982, resulting in a long-lasting friendship and many return visits to Tangier over the years. After extensive travels and stays in Europe, Terrill settled in Hamburg, Germany, in 1984, where he’s worked as a shipyard welder, road manager for rock bands, cook and postal worker. He is the author of Here to Learn; Remembering Paul Bowles (Green Bean Press, 2002) Bread & Fish (The Figures, 2002), The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press, 2003), The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, (Main Street Rag, 2009), Laughing Butcher Berlin Blues (Poetry Salzburg, 2010) and 22 other books and chapbooks of poetry, prose and translations. Other writings and translations have appeared in over 700 literary journals and anthologies worldwide, including City Lights Review, Cahiers d’Art, Bombay Gin, Denver Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Skanky Possum, Gargoyle, Rattle, Zen Monster, Talisman, Jacket, Partisan Review and elsewhere. In 2009 he was invited to guest-edit a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review, which included his translations of Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Nicolas Born and many others. Together with the poet Cralan Kelder, Terrill co-edited the poetry journal Full Metal Poem. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his own work has been translated into German, French and Portuguese, and he’s given readings in various venues in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Prague and Hamburg. Recent publications include a chapbook of his translations of the poetry of Jörg Fauser, An Evening in Europe (Toad Press, 2011), and a full-length collection of his translations of the poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, An Unchanging Blue, Selected Poems 1962-1975 (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2011). Currently he lives on the grounds of a former boatyard near Hamburg with his wife and a large brood of cats.